Movie review: ‘Senna’ documents triumphs, tragedy of iconic racer’s life
The fiery death last month of British IndyCar racer Dan Wheldon serves to underscore the urgency, foreboding and poignancy that propels “Senna,” director Asif Kapadia’s riveting portrait – at once timely and timeless – of the man widely considered the world’s greatest racecar driver until he died at age 34 in a 1994 crash at the height of his career.
Ayrton Senna was the very portrait of the suave, international sportsman during his reign as three-time Formula One world racecar champion. Born in poverty-stricken Brazil to a well-to-do family, the handsome Senna seemed an odd cross between jet-setting playboy and altruistic man of the people.
He was rich but dedicated to aiding the poor. He was devoutly religious but given to wooing a stable of nubile beauties. He was a daring driver and obvious speed freak, but he devoted much time and effort campaigning for stronger safety regulations.
The British-born Kapadia (“The Warrior”) steers clear of conventional documentary techniques – especially talking-head interviews – and tells his story with a engaging combination of newsreel clips, home movies, race coverage and, most thrillingly, POV footage from a mini-camera mounted on Senna’s car as he guns it to 200 mph down straightaways. Beware, moviegoers susceptible to motion sickness or vertigo.
While the narrative here is lean and fast-paced, “Senna” packs in loads of insightful detail and intimate peeks behind the racing scenes – all of which serve to paint a vibrant and informative portrait of this tragically fated racing prodigy.
Particularly compelling is the documentary’s charting of the sharp rivalry between Senna and French racer Alain Prost, a cool, calculating nemesis. Though the two were occasionally on the same team, their antagonism grew harsher over time (especially after a close race at the Monaco Grand Prix that was called early because of rain just as newcomer Senna was closing in on the first-place veteran Prost).
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